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Size Doesn't Matter

Sun-Ray and Sundance bring the best in short film

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Arguably, the Sundance Film Festival has been the most influential cinematic institution in America—if not the entire world—since it was founded by Robert Redford in the Year of Three Popes, 1978. And for the past 30 of those years, short films have played a key role in the festivities, wetting whistles for the fare that follows. This year’s festival takes place in its traditional home of Park City, Utah, Jan. 24-Feb. 3. But first, Jacksonville’s own Sun-Ray Cinema hosts the 2018 Sundance Shorts Tour, a traveling selection of last year’s most buzzworthy entries.

“Short films are often the launchpad for new talent and ideas, where filmmakers can truly take risks,” says Mike Plante, the senior programmer for Sundance Film Festival. “We select a group of shorts that [reflect] the wide variety of films we show at the festival—drama, comedy, genre, happy crazy funny stuff and then serious observations about the human condition, all in one program.”

The tour features seven short films culled from more than 9,000 entries submitted. The total run-time is 91 minutes. Four of the films were shot entirely in America; one was filmed partly in South Korea, while Sweden and Spain produced the other two.

Set in a Brooklyn salon, Mariama Diallo’s hilarious horror spoof Hair Wolf (USA), which won the Jury Award, plays on longstanding tensions related to race and gentrification. Kamau Bilal’s Baby Brother (USA) captures the awkwardness affixed to a stunted maturity in the suburbs, when a youngest brother moves back home. Teeny is tense, a slow-boil, existential take on one day in the life of a babysitter. Kangmin Kim’s JEOM (South Korea) uses a birthmark to explore issues of ancestry, identity and shame.

Jeremy Comte’s Fauve (Canada) won the Special Jury Award for its brutal telling of youthful angst, peer pressure and psychological warfare, and odds are good it’ll end up being your favorite, too. Clocking in at 16 minutes, it’s the second-longest film presented, behind Álvaro Gago’s Matria (Spain), which won the Grand Jury Prize. Matria is the stirring tale of a put-upon mother’s efforts to balance impossible burdens on her life.

My personal pick of the litter, Niki Lindroth von Bahr’s The Burden (Sweden), is a surrealistic stop-motion animated musical in the spirit of Kabuki theater, using anthropomorphic fish, mice, monkeys and other animals—really. (The press release notes, “The apocalypse is a tempting liberation,” a theme that certainly resonates these days.)

The directors involved have already shown at most of the major film festivals, like Cannes, Sundance, BlackStar, Tribeca, Telluride and SXSW. Now they’re showing at Sun-Ray—which, given the power behind its promotion, is definitely a thing in film circles. Booker man Mike Plante took a shine to the Sunshine State and its native cinemaphiles quite some time ago, so it was just a matter of time until business was done.

“I’ve known [Sun-Ray owners] Tim and Shana [Massett] for years from the film fest and art house world,” says Plante, “so when they got their version of Sun-Ray going, I was excited to do any and all shows with them.”

It’s another good look for Sun-Ray, which was featured in a Dec. 26 New York Times article, alongside independent theaters in Austin, Brooklyn, Tallahassee, Toronto and El Segundo (where Q-Tip famously left his wallet in 1990). Author Jason Bailey noted the cinema’s penchant for creatively using the time before the films start to help enhance the movie-going experience. No fake news there. As has been seen repeatedly in recent years, Sun-Ray Cinema is now firmly established as a locus for the local and international film scenes, with much more to come.

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